Bat homes at the rainforest inn help us combat mosquito.
The kioskos of Luquillo Beach serve as a mecca for Puerto Rican culture, a cornucopia of colmados and cuisines. This stretch of fried food shanties to 5-star dining has given the Northeastern side of the island a great hangout. A place for visiting tourists and locals to merge in a must see flair that you won't find anywhere else.
Resting on the shores of Luquillo Beach, on one of the last beaches free from any high rise condominiums and development, the Kioskos have a deep-bedded history and a growing future. In this edition of the Rainforest Inn blog I'm going to bring you a multi-part special of the history, ever changing present, and talk with the new mayor of Luquillo about his plans for the kiosko's future.
Right now there are about 60 plus operating restaurants and stores, with the first half (coming from San Juan east) a little newer, updated and a tad bit fancier, with the last half being…well think "static food truck". There are actual food trucks and carts set up in the parking lot, as well.
The variety, food and style, of this strip is unparalleled. Choices ranging from rice and beans, burgers, seafood, traditional Puerto Rican food, Philly cheese steaks, ceviche, Italian, German etc. etc. to a plethora of different frozen coconut cup concoctions that are perfect after a warm day sun bathing on the calm shores! Names and numbers are used interchangeably, but some vacant lots and sometimes closed options keep the numbers a little sporadic or out of order. New places are always under construction as well, so something different might have popped up since your last visit.
Many of the kioskos have glass cases in the front of their shop--this is tropical island fast food! Grab something quick like a delicious and crispy bacalaito, arepa or a sweet and cheesy pionono.
But if you're looking for a great sit down dining experience before or after you walk in from the beach, just in the backyard, there's a few great current places you can't pass up on your visit to the Luquillo Kioskos.
Some places we love
El Jefe Burger #13 is always highly recommended to our guests, great burgers stuffed with jalapeño, chorizo and even rib-topped with their house made Jefe queso sauce is something you'll be dreaming about when you return back in the states, or even if you're local. Washed down with a pitcher of Lemon Ginger Mojitos, this always hits the spot. An excellent family friendly environment, and drawing on the walls is even encouraged!
La Parilla #2 is excellent for a romantic night over a delicious lobster dinner, in which case this "glass case" couldn't be fresher.
Not only can you have a great meal, some of the kioskos are a great place to kick back, chill on a drink, play darts, karaoke or dance Congas by the Sea #9 and Terruno #20 serve up great authentic Puerto Rican fare with smooth jazz and other live music a few times a week.
Ely's place #10 is LGBT friendly with great events planned throughout the month, and delicious made to order Puerto Rican delights.
El Revelu #25 is a brand new joint with a huge selection of Microbrews, which is hard to find around this side of the island.
Tattoo Tavern #17 cater to your alternative crowd, with luxurious gothic décor, open late, and if you have enough $1 Chichaito shots you can make your trip to the kioskos a truly unforgettable permanent stamp on your body!
Vejigante #31 has a great seafood paella and the décor of masks adorning the walls and colorful paint are paired with excellent service.
La Roca Taino #60 is the oldest of the bunch, here you can grab a great plate of rice and beans for just a few bucks, and on Sunday nights check out hot rod motorcycles and tricked out motor bicycles, along side caravans of horse back riders.
Almost all the kioskos have open-air seating or back patios with a view of the beach. Given all the choices you can rest assured that you really can't go wrong, and if you are on this side of the island for a few days why not try a few? Some are closed Mondays and Tuesday, some only open for dinner…as the Puerto Rican way goes “open sometimes, closed sometimes”
Variety spans every aspect of the Luqillo kioskos, there is truly something for everyone and culturally cannot be missed.
The lawn in front of the rainforest inn villa overlooks the Caribbean sea. Because it's often too muddy to walk on Curtis Humphrey, who volunteered with us a couple of years back, built some amazing brick paths. He designed them to spiral out from the center. This design, like the rays of the sun, called for something interesting for the focus. We found an old stone carved bird bath at an importers and installed it in the center.
Normally that would be the end of it. Beautiful bird bath and lots of birds in the rainforest. But the birds never visited our welcoming bath. And we are lucky to have plenty of birds. Lizard cuckoos in the tree by the driveway, the monkey call of the Puerto Rican screech owl, Guaraguas high overhead, humming birds, vireos, Puerto Rican todies visiting every tree and bush, hovering over the pond, everywhere you look except the bird bath. Our rainforest birds weren't the least interested in our bird bath. It rains here constantly, there's water everywhere, so a bird bath in the rainforest is completely useless.
It's pretty sunny on the villa front lawn (when it's not raining) and it seemed ideal for a sundial. They're not available in Puerto Rico (I didn't consider that there might be a reason you don't see sundials here) so I started searching eBay for sundials. They are plentiful on eBay. Lots of choices, different materials, brass, ceramic, cast iron, and different styles: horizontal dials, vertical dials, equatorial dials, polar dials, analemmatic dials. We settled on horizontal dials as thats the one you most commonly see in a garden with the wedge shaped gnomon pointing north. You see I was learning the nomenclature. Sundials aren't that simple. Ebay had lots of horizontal sundials for sale and I measured the birdbath to see what size it should be.
Next I filled in the birdbath with concrete and tiled it with a nice compass dial pattern of Travertine (limestone) tiles. I cut them to size around the edges and glued the vertical ones on with epoxy and later set the surface ones in thin set. Then I grouted it with a nice bronze colored sanded grout. It looked great, ready for the sundial.
Luckily I didn't buy one of the factory made sundials on eBay. They would have looked good but they wouldn't have told time. It turns out that bird baths aren't the only thing that doesn't work in the rainforest. Sundials, the factory made variety, are setup with a gnomon and face markings for the northern latitudes. Down here in Puerto Rico, near the equator, they have to be custom designed. So now the whole sundial project was in question. As you can see in the photo though the bird bath did look good with a tiled face and it certainly wasn't a bird bath anymore.
I kept looking at sundials on eBay and then I saw the perfect one. The eBay listing said: "Working sundial custom made for your location." firstname.lastname@example.org would design the sundial based on my latitude and cut it out of steel using a plasma torch. He had an example of his work shown (held by a goat) and it looked like exactly what we wanted. I sent Jamison the PayPal purchase and a couple of phone calls later (turns out he's from Maine like my wife) he built our new sundial and mailed it down to us in Puerto Rico. He powder coated it with bronze paint baked in an oven so it wouldn't rust in the constant rains and I mounted it slightly raised so it would drain off and stay as dry as possible. And it tells time.
Most any adventure is found because of the perceptions you bring with you. This blog is not for the person who can’t leave "home" behind or thinks even the color of the coffee is a problem. It is for the fearless at heart and the romantic of mind. Nothing kills a great vacation like inflexibility and rigidness. You could have a much nicer vacation if you don't sweat the small details. Oh and don't forget to leave your huge expectations at home. Sure we all like that familiar schedule of our daily life but accepting the challenges of traveling often changes your life in unforeseen ways, sometimes even dramatically. How often do you walk down a 200 year old cobblestone street hand in hand and then dine at a sidewalk cafe or do you take a hike deep into the rainforest and get lost to find yourself sleeping there for the night? It's romantic to have couple time and to commune with nature, being in an unfamiliar place adds the spice. We recently had a couple staying with us who turned what could have been a hiking disaster into an adventure and a remarkable memory. More on that a little later. Our tiny bed and breakfast has all kinds of guests from all walks of life and all age groups. The best traveling guests can not be anticipated ahead of time, unless of course they are the guests that should have been recommended to another more commodious (read "stuffy resort") place in the beginning.
Here at the Rainforest Inn we are urban pioneers of a sort. We have gotten used to going with plan B from the first days of our repairs of a hurricane-ravaged family estate. Before we opened our bed and breakfast we didn’t have electricity or running water. Now that calls for a lot of flexibility. I won’t say we didn’t want to kill each other once in a while, then that same evening we would have a candle light dinner on the roof of one of the unfinished buildings on the property. Don’t think for a minute that we didn’t sometimes say W.T.H. did we get ourselves into, but that's another whole blog.
Nick and Ena's hiking disaster happened after they made it to a secret waterfall deep in the El Yunque Rainforest on the Mameyes river that we had talked about as a potential hiking destination. This is a spot reserved for only the adventurous and not easy to find. It's off a trail that is not one of the paved easy trails that everyone else takes. It's located past the end of a steep muddy trail up a ways deeper in the rainforest and even more secluded.
In the photo: Behind the large rock in the center of the pool in front of the waterfall is deeper water where you can swim in and out under the full force of the falls. This secret waterfall is one of the nicest in El Yunque tropical rainforest. As an aside, an important aside, please don't send me an email asking for directions to this waterfall. It's not that we don't want people going there (or maybe that's part of it because it is a really unspoiled location) but it's the danger of hiking there that must be made very clear first. We also talk with our guests at breakfast about other easier hikes and about what you can do to avoid getting lost and what you should do once you know you're lost, then they make their decision on which hikes are for them.
Because this is not the first time I've been involved in rescue process of someone lost in the rainforest I've learned some things, many of which are counter-intuitive and surprising. There are great differences between our El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico and the northern deciduous forest where most of our visitors have gotten their hiking experience.
The rainforest is a "jungle". It's very dense and everywhere confusing green growth blocks your view. I guess most people realize this as it's what jungle means. Once a hiker goes off the trail he won't be able to see far enough to find the trail again and it will be very difficult to make your way through the dense growth and even more difficult to plan your route as cliffs and other obstacles won't be visible until you're right on top of them.
The usual boy scout rules for what to do when you're lost don't apply here. Don't stay where you are (unless you're injured and still on the trail -- if you're injured and lost then you're really screwed which I will explain soon too).
Please understand two important differences about the process of searching for lost hikers in the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico and how it would be done in a vast northern forest like the Appalachians or the Sierra Nevada.
1. Puerto Rico is a small island. It is only thirty miles by one hundred miles. You could walk from one side to the other (from the Caribbean to the Atlantic) in less than two days.
2. We don't have search planes (or at least we don't use them in the rescue process) and we certainly don't have helicopters with advanced infrared devices that will find you in the jungle (that would be nice but it is only happens in the movies).
When someone is lost in the rainforest we find out because the hikers told us or told someone else where they were going that day and they haven't returned by the next morning. For our guests we always strongly suggest they give us an itinerary of the hikes they plan to do and when. The first step after that is to look and see if their car is parked at the trail head where they said they were going. Then we hike down the trail to see if we find them down there still because they may be injured. This time I was in San Juan working so my nephew Jimmy volunteered to hike down the trail. In the worse case we look for evidence that there was a flash flood in the nearby swimming areas. We also take a very loud air horn which can be heard like from my bed and breakfast to the peak of El Yunque and back. But everytime I've done this first step I've never found anyone and luckily never found evidence of someone being injured.
The next step is to report the missing hikers to the El Yunque security patrol officers (or often done as part of the first step). In this case we called Jose Ayala the law enforcement patrol captain of the U.S. forest service enforcement and investigative branch. They have arrangements with the local Department of Natural Resources and the Rio Grande rescue volunteers and they will organize and mobilize the vast effort to find someone who is lost. It is important to realize that this next step is costly and will likely involve many days of fruitless searching because as I explained earlier the rainforest is dense and visibility is poor so our searchers will practically have to step on you before they find you. This is why if you get lost in the rainforest and then get injured you are in such deep trouble. It will likely be several days or more before you are found. So please if you find yourself lost and you don't have a map, or a compass, or a GPS or a cell phone then avoid panic. Realize that all is not lost. It will be fairly straight forward to walk out of there. If you have no idea which direction to walk then go down hill. Follow a stream. Be careful with the slippery rocks and go around impassible brush while you walk beside the stream following it down hill. Eventually that stream will hit the ocean and well before that you will encounter a road and civilization. Puerto Rico is a small densely populated island and there are houses everywhere.
Our guests Nick and Ena got lost when it started raining on their way out. In their hurry to get out of the rain and because of poor visibility they got off the trail. They knew that they could find their way out and didn't give up even when the straight line route (you can catch glimpses of the sun or go by elevation changes to be sure you're not walking in circles) ended at a cliff and several patches of nearly impassible brush. As darkness was descending upon them they realized they were spending the night in the rainforest. They had drinking water (never hike anywhere without enough drinking water) and it doesn't get so cold at night here but you will spend an uncomfortable hungry night. They spent the night, watched the sunset and the darkness close in while listening to the raucous jungle sounds. Ena discovered some insect life she would have rather not have known so intimately while she tried to sleep.
The following morning Nick spotted a coke can up the hill and later a discarded tire (they were happy to see the litter of civilization) and walked up past that to find the road. We hadn't yet mobilized the search and rescue crew and everyone went back to the Rainforest Inn. Ena mentioned they were disappointed that they would miss the ginger pancakes breakfast. We were very happy to see them when they returned at around noon or so and made them their ginger pancakes for lunch. They are now looking forward to their next visit to Puerto Rico and some more hikes, possibly shorter hikes.
Nick and Ena are the perfect example of your fearless and romantic travelers who learned first hand that life is what it is and so is traveling!